2012 in Arts and Culture

In yet another 2012 annual roundup post, I wanted to document some of the artsy, fun things I saw in 2012. It didn’t quite fit into one a month, but here’s a selection anyway.


Classical Club Night (January)

Young performers associated with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Rambert Dance Company performed Trapeze, an early ballet score by Prokofiev, in the Clore Ballroom at London’s Southbank Centre. This was free to attend, late in the evening (starting at 9.45pm), and presented in the Southbank Centre’s ballroom space which is really open and has a bar. It was great because I could take pictures, move around during the performance and go to the bar when I wanted.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (April)

A play telling the story of Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking a large number of documents to the website wikileaks. Written by Tim Price and directed by John E McGrath. In addition to being performed site-specifically in three high schools, the show was broadcast online alongside a chat stream and links to further information. One of my favourite plays ever.

(Disclosure: This show was produced by my employer, National Theatre Wales)

Spymonkey’s Oedipussy (April)

Spymonkey’s hilarious take on the story of Oedipus. Five great performers and two hours of laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Brilliant. Here’s my full review from earlier in the year.

I’d Hide You (May)

Blast Theory created this unique live and online gaming experience for The Space. Three ‘runners’ were on the streets of Manchester trying to catch each other on camera. Online participants were invited to help or hinder the runners by sharing information about the whereabouts of the other players.

Coriolan/us (August)

Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes took the text of Shak

espeare’s Coriolanus and Brecht’s Coriolan and re-told the story in a huge disused aircraft hangar in the Vale of Glamorgan. They used silent disco technology, live filming and cinema screens to give audience members the choice of how to watch each scene. I’ve never properly embraced and loved a Shakespeare play before, so this was a great moment for me.

(Disclosure: This show was produced by my employer, National Theatre Wales)

Llwyth (September)

I’ve seen this show three times. I think that covers how much I like it. Here’s a review from the second time.

Nina Simone (A)Live (October)

I saw this biopic of Nina Simone at MC Theater in Amsterdam. It was in Dutch, but the range of storytelling devices used meant that I understood everything that was going on, despite barely understanding a word of the language. The show, unsurprisingly, used a lot of music but rather than just performing Nina Simone’s music exactly a she would have done, there was everything from classical piano to hip hop and live multi-track mixing. A great experience and a really interesting place to visit if you’re ever in Amsterdam.

The Breezeway, Rockefeller Center (December)

I couldn’t really get through the review of the year without including something from my trip to New York. At Top of the Rock, the Rockefeller Center’s viewing platform, there’s a room which knows where you are, assigns you a colour and changes the light and sound display. I also thought it was quite cute that if you were blue and your friend was red, you could stand on the same place and hug them and the colours sort of merged above you. A great idea, well executed. Here’s a video, to explain better how it works.

What were your arts and cultural highlights of the year? What are you looking forward to in 2013?

Pointe Blank

A year or so ago I saw a tweet from RobBirmingham Royal Ballet‘s New Media Officer, announcing a new project, Pointe Blank, in which BRB had commissioned a number of illustrators and designers to respond to the plot and themes of the ballet Coppélia. The work was shown in Birmingham and also online, at

The work was wonderful, and showed a really interesting variety of responses to the brief. From a ballet marketing point of view, it opened up a new way to discuss the themes of the production and from a creative point of view gave the artists the opportunity to engage with a different creative form in a new way.

Following that exhibition, BRB repeated the project earlier this year, this time using their production of Hobson’s Choice as inspiration. The images were again shown in a gallery and online.

Next month BRB are bringing their production of Swan Lake to Wales Millennium Centre, so they decided to commission a new Pointe Blank collection, inviting illustrators and designers from Cardiff and South Wales to respond to the plot in the same way as before. On Monday I went to the opening of the exhibition at Milkwood Gallery in Roath, and it was great to see responses to the story by some artists I know, and others I don’t.

One of the highlights is Laura Sorvola’s hand-drawn illustration which depicts the entire plot of the ballet inside the lettering of its title. Laura has blogged creating this piece here. I also really liked Matt Joyce’s graphic pattern piece, and Joanne Hawker’s masked swan. You can view the full Swan Lake collection here.

I really like the big idea behind this – inviting creatives from one artform to respond to another artform in their own way, and it has prompted me to think about ways in which visual artists could be invited to respond to theatre, or perhaps theatre makers respond to visual art or music.

The exhibition runs at Milkwood Gallery until 8 October, and is part of Cardiff Design Festival.

Images by Claire Hartley. The full gallery is on the Pointe Blank Facebook page

This post was originally published on National Theatre Wales Community

Review: My Life in CIA

Last week I went to Give It a Name’s My Life in CIA. I reviewed it for Buzz Magazine. You can read my review here.

Review: Spymonkey’s Oedipussy

Review: Oedipussy (by Spymonkey, at Wales Millenium Centre 27 April 2012)

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

The first thing to say is that this was one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre I’ve had in a long time. The cast of four began out of character, mocking each other and reviews of their previous shows, and then launched into their very special take on the Greek story of Oedipus.

A mix of scripting (by Carl Grose), music (with several live vocal and instrumental sections played live by the cast), physical comedy and circus techniques, the show had a great pace and was genuinely gripping the whole way through.

The design of both set (Michael Vale) and costumes (Lucy Bradridge) was really impressive. A minimalistic-looking set gave a huge range of possibilities, featuring as ladders, stairs, walls, columns and a walkway transcending space and time on occasion. Costumes were also notable, particularly the use of a huge hat to turn the narrator into a Grecian column and a flock of sheep created by a long coat with giant pompoms around the hem. Ribbons and fabrics were also used to great effect to represent blood, in ever more surreal ways as the show went along.

Particular moments of hilarity included Petra Massey ‘misunderstanding’ the Sphinx and appeared on stage completely naked but with a giant cat head, the song ‘Leprosy’s Not Funny’, complete with audience participation in a repeating chorus, and a Morris dancing scene which, despite obviously covering a costume change, was perfectly placed and choreographed.

Each performer took a turn in stepping out of character and addressing the audience in tongue-in-cheek monologues, mostly involving how fat/old/talentless their fellow cast members are and what they plan to do when the tour is over, alongside sharing a host of medical complaints all apparently exacerbated by performing in the show.

Overall this was a wonderful night of theatre. Four incredibly skilled performers had me gripped not only by a story that’s a thousand years old, but also by their creative style and natural creative humour. Catch this if you can – it’s on tour at the moment – and if not I’ll probably see you at their next show!

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

Review – Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

31 October 2011

A training orchestra of sorts, Sinfonia Cymru bridges the gap between student and professional by providing young players with orchestral performance opportunities alongside high-profile soloists. Young performers tend to have an energy not always present with more seasoned players professional players, and this was certainly noticeable in this performance.

Given the late start time of 8pm, the programme was quite long and a few audience members did slip out before the final piece. Two symphonies and a piano concerto were packed in alongside the shorter Serenade for Strings by Dag Wirén, which rode along with joyful spirit in line with it’s folk-like style and tonality.

The first of the symphonies, Haydn’s No 83, opened enthusiastically and ended with triumphant gusto, though with a slump in energy during the central movements. Llŷr Williams then joined the players to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27. As usual, he brought a technically brilliant performance, with just the right amount of depth and expression for the work. Williams is a fascinating pianist to watch, as he cares for every phrase and expresses far more widely than just with fingers on the keyboard.

The programme was concluded with another Haydn symphony, No 85 in B flat major, into which the orchestra launched with almost joyous abandon. This was an enjoyable performance right through to the racing finale which, although taken at quite a pace, was as accurate and thrilling as could be demanded.

Overall the playing was excellent, the odd slip in synchronicity and some unloved ends of phrases aside, and all in all a very enjoyable evening. The players are obviously learning the ways of a professional orchestra and this is occasionally apparent in their manner and enthusiasm but they make a really excellent sound together, something that was only enhanced by the acoustics of the wonderful Dora Stoutzker Hall.


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